A Day At The Bench
When the shores of Lake Iroquois receded, they left behind a water table of wine. Today, a sunny day’s short drive leads us to so many exciting vineyards that bear the fruit of this rich soil. Like treasure hunters with maps in hand, we set out to discover these gems.
There is a new wave of winemaking happening in the Twenty Valley wine region based on the Italian tradition of Amarone wine. Appassimento is a style that involves controlled drying of grapes to increase the concentration of all their potential. It’s not that anyone was looking for a “new technique” to try, as much as it is about trying to maintain consistent quality from season to season in a region that can be very difficult for making wine. The result? I defy anyone to taste these Ontario wines and not be absolutely wowed by them.
Canada’s first appassimento is a Magnotta Winery blend. They say you never forget your first, but in this case, I keep going back to it. Gabe Magnotta loved full-bodied reds, and he sought to prove that Ontario could create a full-throttle red to rival Italy’s Amarone reds. He was right! Enotrium is a voluptuous blend of Merlot, Cab Sauv and Cab Franc, and it’s full of sweet tannins and very ripe fruits like cassis, blackberry and plum, with a hint of cloves. We love Magnotta for it’s ice wine, iced apple wine and vast selection of table wines. One quick stop at their Beamsville location, and we can pick up all the essentials.
Cornerstone Estate Winery does not try to make the same wine twice. Here, it’s not about consistency, its about maximizing potential and appreciating that each harvest is different from the last. Pinot Gris, naturally fermented and kiln-dried, has a copper hue and is more complex and robust then most. Stoned White is a unique blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay Musque, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer that is a nuanced reflection of the terroir. The 2010 Cab Merlot has soft, sweet and chewy tannins, and is very drinkable. In the tasting room, Jerry Kopanski proudly showcases his range of wines--from appassimento and ripasso to an intense port wine.
Andrzej Lipinski is one of the names generating a lot of buzz these days. For Lipinski, this is artwork. “You have to know the fruit and drying process. You are emphasizing what happens in the vineyard and coaxing the good out of the fruit that is there,” he tells me. Lipinski is drawn to appassimento because, for him, it’s like, “putting the fruit under a magnifying glass and focusing on the good qualities”. His Big Head Wines are indeed big. Naturally fermented, cigar-barrelaged wines are masterfully tended straight through to the bottle for optimal fruit concentration. The essence of Chenin Blanc is of an elegant lemon-vanilla cream pie. Syrah is like an ambrosia plum, with velvety depth for a wonderful mouth feel. How big can you go? At 15.5% alcohol, you can’t get bigger than Bigger Red. Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Merlot make a lush and chewy blending of sweet ripe berries and floral notes with a dash of cocoa and pepper.
While we can nibble at each winery stop, we find the “who’s who” of winemakers at August Restaurant and About Thyme Bistro. Seated in August, we indulge in delectable crispy duck rolls with peach and cayenne marmalade. These local favourites pair very easily with wine, and owner, Clayton Gillie is happy to make suggestions. Across the street at About Thyme, chef Ryan Shapiro designs his menu around the local wines that we might not find anywhere else. I feel great pride seeing bottles of Ontario wine on each table. We indulge in a sinfully rich and savoury duck confit poutine with foie gras. Staunchly supportive of local wineries, chef Shapiro sources his lamb and duck directly from biodynamic wineries like Tawse Winery and Featherstone Estate Winery. One of the original advocates of slow food and farmto-table cooking is The Good Earth Food and Wine Co. Here, Nicolette Novak leads cooking classes into the evening and culinary events that celebrate fresh and locally
sourced food with wines made from hand-pruned grapes. Look out for the addictive ginger-apple wontons with rum-spiked dulce de leche.
Graham Rennie, along with renowned Malivoire winemaker Shiraz Mottiar, has just vaulted the bar up very high with Rennie Estate Winery’s “G” Assemblage. Merlot, Cab Franc and Cab Sauv are dried for 70 days and aged 18 months in French oak, for a deep velvety bowl of rich, sweet and soft tannins. A full-bodied, well-integrated blend, this voluptuous elixir is simply sublime. We look forward to more from this beautiful boutique winery production.
New to the field is Kew Vineyards Estate Winery. Charmed by this elegant 160yearold farmhouse, we are drawn to its country-kitchen feel. Strolling through the vineyards in the sunshine with a glass of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier and nibbling on local cheese and fresh-baked bread, I am so excited by my new find! With its fresh exotic fruit, lemon, caramel and toasty notes, winemaker Philip Dowell has produced the first-ever Hermitage-style wine in Ontario, and it is lovely. Soldier’s Grant stands and delivers. Seventy-five-percent Cab Sauv, 25% Cab Franc and about 20% of that Cab Franc is appasimento. Think blueberry jam with a mélange of summer-ripe berries and a rich sprinkling of cocoa. Its sweet mocha and soft tannins make this a delicious wine. Heritage is a blend of Cab Franc, Cab Sauv and Merlot, of which 50% is appasimento and 50% is ripasso for a spectacular confluence of intense, sweet and chewy tannins.
What’s buzzing at nearby Rosewood Estates Winery In addition to luscious wildflower honey from their own apiary; and an elegant honey-sweet Harvest Gold meade that pairs beautifully with Cajun dishes; Rosewood’s Süssreserve Riesling is so vibrant and refreshing. Made by adding unfermented Riesling juice back into the wine after the base wine has been fermented, it creates a wonderfully structured balance of acidity, sweetness and complexity that is perfect for summer. The Lock, Stock, and Barrel assemblage of Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot is a dark and intense plum-y wine, with robust cherries and chocolate that encapsulates the terroir and the talent flourishing in Niagara now.
There is so much more to discover on the back roads of the escarpment, and we recommend you hop into your car and go exploring for yourselves. Cheers!
Top Right: Kew Vineyards Estate Winery boutique Bottom Right: August Restaurant Crispy Duck Rolls Opposite Page: Red 7, Kendall Hurley Gallery www.kendallhurleygallery.com